Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Right to Sue TV Station for Faulty Hoverboard Theft Report Heard at Off-Site Court Session

Image of a person wearing a hoodie walking in an empty parking lot at night (jaap-willem/iStock)

Three siblings sue TV station for labeling them “robbers” based on police report seeking public’s help identifying suspects.

Image of a person wearing a hoodie walking in an empty parking lot at night (jaap-willem/iStock)

Three siblings sue TV station for labeling them “robbers” based on police report seeking public’s help identifying suspects.

Columbus police asked the news media for help in identifying three siblings for their possible involvement in the armed robbery of an 8-year-old’s hoverboard. The three were cleared of charges, but not before a television station’s broadcast termed the three as “robbers.” The broadcaster is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to protect the media from defamation lawsuits when official information changes the story.

Anderson v. WBNS-TV is one of three cases the Supreme Court will hear during a special off-site court session on April 24 at Geneva High School in Ashtabula County. Area high school students will attend the Court’s oral arguments and discuss the three cases.

Police Seek Help Identifying Robbers
In January 2016, the Columbus Division of Police issued a short news release to local news media regarding a Nov. 26, 2015, crime at a water park. Included with the release were two still photographs from security-camera video. The first photo showed a parking lot and individuals too far away to be recognizable. The second was from a water park hallway, which clearly showed the faces of three people. The news release stated: “Anyone that can help identify the persons in the attached photographs who may have been involved are asked to contact the Columbus Police Robbery Unit at 614-645-4665.”

WBNS-TV prepared two early morning broadcasts based on the release and posted one story on its website. The headline of the website story stated: “Robbers Put Gun to Child’s Head and Steal Hoverboard.” Underneath the headline was the photo from the hallway with the three unidentified people. The mother of Aaron, Aaronana, and Arron Anderson saw the story and immediately took the three to the Columbus police station. The police interviewed them and cleared them of any potential wrongdoing. The police sent a second release to the media stating the three “were found to not be the suspects in the robbery,” and asked news outlets not to use the hallway photo.

WBNS complied. It stop airing stories on the robbery and took down the photo from its website story, but kept the story online. In October 2016, the Andersons filed a defamation lawsuit against WBNS, noting they were labeled as “robbers.” The TV station received a summary judgment from trial court, arguing that the Andersons didn’t prove the station acted negligently. The Andersons appealed to the Tenth District Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court’s decision.

WBNS maintains it didn’t defame the Andersons. The siblings were never named in the story, and at the time of the broadcast, neither the station nor the police knew their identities. While the station used the term “robbers,” in each of the stories along with the photos of the Andersons, each report used the term “suspects.” The station argues it wasn’t acting unreasonably when it broadcast the information provided by police and updated the story when police ruled out the Andersons as suspects.

The Andersons argue that a jury should decide whether the TV station defamed the Andersons by airing statements that reflect poorly on the siblings’ reputation. They maintain the faulty reporting wasn’t caused by police providing the media inaccurate information, but rather that the TV station reworded the police release without further investigating whether it was accurate to describe them as “robbers.”

Off-Site Court Case Highlights
Along with the brief summaries below, in-depth previews of the cases are now available for the cases being heard in Geneva.

Woman Injured by Motorized Cart, Sues Grocery Store
A woman was injured at a Brook Park grocery store and hospitalized when another customer driving a motorized cart hit her shopping cart, which knocked the woman into a cake display case and onto the floor. The injured woman sued the grocery store chain, and a jury awarded her $121,000 in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages. The grocery store chain in Rieger v. Giant Eagle argues that the danger from motorized carts is open and obvious and that the company didn’t demonstrate conscious disregard for its customers. The injured woman counters that the company is liable because it could foresee the potential harm to customers based on 117 earlier motorized cart accidents at the company’s stores.

SUV Color Mismatch Leads to Arrest, Driver Fights Charges
As a black GMC SUV passed a Washington Court House police officer, his cruiser’s onboard license plate reader captured the SUV’s license plate. A dispatcher obtained the vehicle’s registration information, and told the officer the plates were registered to a 2001 white GMC SUV. Believing that the vehicle might have been stolen, the police stopped the driver, who didn’t have any identification with him, but gave the officer his date of birth and Social Security number. The officer told the man he had an outstanding arrest warrant. The driver sped away but was captured. At the trial, the man sought to suppress the evidence , arguing the officer “lacked reasonable articulable suspicion” to stop him. In State v. Hawkins, the Court will consider if an investigatory stop based on a mismatch between the SUV’s paint color and the color listed on the registration violated the man’s constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Columbus Cases Involve Court Costs, Employment Disputes
Before departing for Geneva, the Court will hear three cases on April 23 at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus.

A pilot fired by a Columbus airline filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the company. As the case proceeded, several depositions were taken by both sides. The company received summary judgment by the Franklin County Common Pleas Court. The company sought $3,641 as court costs from the pilot for preparing transcripts of four depositions. The trial court granted the request. In Vossman v. AirNet Systems Inc., the Court will consider whether deposition transcripts fall within the definition of Ohio law as “court costs” that can be passed on to the losing party in a case.

In House v. Iacovelli, a Brunswick restaurant employee states that she was fired because she complained to the owners about inaccurate reporting of staff income to the state unemployment fund. She argued in her lawsuit that she was wrongfully terminated in violation of the public policy that bans employers from firing employees for complaining about illegal practices. The restaurant maintains that her claim can’t go to trial because it doesn’t meet the elements required for this type of wrongful discharge lawsuit. Because a state law fines employers that don’t correctly report employee wages to the fund, the public’s interests are protected and no individual employee claim on this issue is necessary, the restaurant contends.

A second employment law appeal, Miracle v. Department of Veterans’ Services, stems from the 2015 firing of a new employee from a Sandusky veterans’ home. The employee had been fired from an earlier Mansfield prison job because he broke a rule that helped an inmate escape. The employee, who was within a probationary timeframe at the veterans’ home, alleges that a senior adviser to the governor ordered his firing because of bad press related to the prison escape. The agency and the governor’s office argue that employees can be fired for any reason during their probation. The employee counters that state law indicates a public policy against firing probationary employees doing satisfactory work and against an agency’s abuse of power.

Oral Argument Broadcasts
Arguments each day will begin at 9 a.m., and will be carried live online at and broadcast live on The Ohio Channel.